Hawthorne, Denys Vernon (1932–2009), actor, was born 9 August 1932 in Portadown, Co. Armagh, the only child of (Robert) Victor Hawthorne, who owned a factory making handkerchiefs, and his wife Anne (née Cooke). He attended Portadown College, where several of the teachers, especially the French teacher, Eric Anderson, helped the pupils to put on plays. In one notable school production, Denys shared the limelight with 'Sandy' Walker (the future film critic Alexander Walker (qv)) and James Mehaffey, later Church of Ireland bishop of Derry and Raphoe. He was also an enthusiastic member of Portadown Drama Circle, founded in 1947. Though probably disappointed that their son did not join the family business, his parents encouraged his interests; his father was president of the Portadown Drama Festival and sponsored a cup for a drama category in the festival, still awarded in 2015. Hawthorne went to QUB to study law, but probably not seriously intending to follow a legal career; in December 1952, still a student, he appeared in a play in the Ulster Group Theatre.
The Group Theatre was an important focus of cultural life in Northern Ireland at the time, fostering new writing and training a generation of young actors, actresses and directors. James Ellis (1932–2014), Colin Blakely (qv), Patrick Magee (1922–82) and Stephen Boyd (qv) were among Hawthorne's contemporaries. During his time with the Group, Hawthorne received excellent reviews in plays such as 'All souls' night', by Joseph Tomelty (qv). However, in 1958 Hawthorne had a leading role in 'The bonefire', by Gerard McLarnon (1915–97). This somewhat violent drama, one of the first Ulster plays to explore and condemn sectarianism, was denied government funding when the director, Tyrone Guthrie (qv), refused to make changes to the production. It was then withdrawn by the Group Theatre management, fearful of damaging their relationship with the Stormont government and their main audience, the Belfast unionist middle class. The play had to transfer to the Grand Opera House, where the unprecedentedly large audiences, totalling over 42,000 people, presumably including at least some of the unionist population, ensured its commercial success. Hawthorne and his colleagues had opposed what was effectively state censorship, and afterwards he felt he was distrusted by the increasingly conservative management of the Group Theatre.
Like Louis MacNeice (qv), W. R. Rodgers (qv), and other Ulstermen, including Ronald Mason (1926–97) and Eric Ewens (1917–99), Hawthorne found congenial employment in the BBC's radio drama department in London, where throughout a long career from 1960 his beautiful speaking voice was utilised in dozens of broadcast drama productions, as well as poetry readings. His experience in Belfast, his unremarkable but gentlemanly appearance, and his contacts in the theatre ensured that Hawthorne became a familiar figure in English repertory theatres in the 1960s. His first television appearance was in another controversial Ulster play, 'Cemented with love', by Sam Thompson (qv), broadcast in May 1965.
From 1972 to 1974 he was producer of BBC Northern Ireland radio drama, based in Belfast. He returned to London and played a prison doctor in a television series, the soap opera Within these walls (1974–8). Theatre performances at the Edinburgh Festival, in the London area, at the Abbey and Peacock theatres in Dublin, and in Belfast's Lyric Theatre continued through the 1980s, and he appeared with success in Royal Shakespeare Company productions at the Barbican theatre, London (1991–3). On British television, Hawthorne appeared in scores of programmes, mini-series and television dramas, including It ain't half hot mum (1978), a number of appearances in Doctor Who (1986), Inspector Morse (1990), Dangerfield (1995), and the children's series Grange Hill (1978). Hawthorne contributed the role of Mr Yearling to RTÉ's celebrated 1980 production of Strumpet city, adapted by Hugh Leonard (qv) from the novel by James Plunkett (qv). He also appeared in Anne Devlin's The long march (1984), in Glenroe (1985), as an IRA man in the mini-series Crossfire (1988), and, perhaps even more notably for Irish audiences, as Bishop Facks in the 'Tentacles of doom' episode (1996) of Father Ted.
Hawthorne also acted successfully in films, after a bad start with roles in two critically slammed soft-porn films, The wife swappers (1970) and Suburban wives (1971), an unfortunate and unusual misstep for Hawthorne. He appeared in Jim Sheridan's In the name of the father (1993) and was a memorable Mr Woodhouse in Emma (1996). Politics held little interest for him, and he had no time at all for the bigotry and sectarianism that marred his native region, but did retain a fondness for people and places, and especially for Irish literature and plays. He provided voiceovers for Northern Ireland tourism films and Ulster documentaries, and was a noted interpreter of the poetry of MacNeice and W. B. Yeats (qv). He produced and acted in a programme on Co. Down-born Patrick Brontë (qv), won the Society of Authors award for his dramatisation of Jennifer Johnston's novel How many miles to Babylon?, and was nominated for a Sony best actor award in 1984.
In his 70s, Hawthorne suffered a severe stroke, which affected his memory and brought his acting career to an end, after fifty years. In the summer of 1970 in London, he had married Rita Christina Biddulph, who had three children from a previous marriage; they survived him when he died in Hove, Sussex, on 16 October 2009.